This article is excerpted from Machine Elves 101 (Or, Why Terence McKenna Matters), recently released by Reality Sandwich Singles, a new series of novella-length e-books.

He toddles onto the stage, kaleidoscopic colors swirling about on the screen behind him. His domical eyes bulge through the spectacles resting halfway down his nose. Corkscrew, frizzy hair and a graying beard cerebrally adorn his lanky frame. The youth in the crowd cheer him on like he’s a rock star. He pulls out a notepad of annotations and begins in nasally, high-pitched articulation, “Our discussion this evening is called ‘Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines.’ Or, ‘Shamans Among the Machines.’” The audience applauds and yelps in adulation, as if he just performed an amazing minstrel feat. He continues his pitch, conversing about consciousness expansion, quoting Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Hans Moravec, and speculating about the evolution of artificial intelligence while trippy electronic music and imagery oscillates in the background.  By the end of his rave, he spirals into a conclusion where he asserts, “The world is made of language.”(1)

Who is this older man, addressing a generation half his age, rhapsodizing about psychedelics and shamans?  Simply, he is an icon with a thriving milieu of disciples. He has an enticing portfolio of works under his wing supporting his legacy: books, videos, spoken word performances, etc. Join a conversation with the key words psychedelic, entheogen, DMT, ayahuasca, mushroom, shamanism, or 2012, and his name is likely to crop up. He has become a legend, so to speak, in the underground. Ask any person on Main Street, America and they have no idea who he is; but saunter into the middle of a Burning Man Festival and they have shrines built in his honor.

So, what exactly is the Terence McKenna circus?

Terence McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was a combination ethnobotanist, philosopher, historian, and author. Digging deeper, McKenna was a counter-cultural phenomenon, sparking the imagination of an entire generation of youthful seekers, hipsters, and techno-spiritual aficionados. His is a romantic story: Western man quests into the depths of the Amazon jungle searching for hidden knowledge and encounters the unthinkable. He emerges with a revelation. It is, in a sense, a reflection of our own inner archetype of Campbell’s hero journey. Maybe this is why the Village Voice dubbed McKenna the “Copernicus of consciousness.” He took our way of thinking about the world, about reality itself, and turned it upside down. Where once the objects around us were solid . . . now they are not.
Terence McKenna delivered a fresh, new approach to the psychedelic experience, and what makes him fascinating is that the movement around his ideas continues to grow like a paradigm-shift tidal wave through the underbelly of society. For instance, even though one of his most wildly popular theories has been mathematically challenged he still continues to spark the imagination of what Jonathan Talat Phillips calls the “new spiritual counterculture”(2) Why has Terence McKenna continued to grow with such popularity? In the words of author and journalist Graham Hancock, McKenna “was a radical and original thinker, an advocate of hallucinogen use for consciousness exploration, and a specialist in the ethnomedicine of the Amazon basin.”(3) McKenna has profoundly affected and helped foster the booming popularity of the use of psychedelic substances, harkening a new age of postmodern techno-shamans. Such a character is worthy of a more comprehensive study into his life and work.
But, fasten your seatbelts . . . the rollercoaster ride into alien dreamtime may induce permanent alchemical transmutations.

* * * 

To continue reading, click here to download the e-book.

Machine Elves 101 covers all the high points of the McKenna story: the experiment at La Chorrea, the pioneering magic mushroom cultivation of the 70s, The Invisible Landscape, the Palenque Entheobotany Seminars, visitations by the Machine Elves while on DMT, the Stoned Ape hypothesis, The Timewave and what it predicted for Dec 21, 2012, and The Archaic Revival. Also included is an exclusive interview with Dennis McKenna, Terence’s frequent collaborator, who candidly discusses his brother’s legacy. Machine Elves 101 offers the first comprehensive introduction to the life and work of this visionary icon.


Image by _thor_, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.